Megillas Esther contains deep themes of identity, boundaries, and communication. The theme of identity is spotlighted when Esther outs herself as a proud Jew. In Tractate Megillah, the Talmud begins its analysis of the Purim story by showing how walled and unwalled cities celebrate Purim differently. The Megillah refers to itself as a letter; letter writing and communication in general are also primary motifs of the Purim story.
This week’s parsha tells us that when the Jewish people will enter the Land of Israel, G-d will drive out our enemies by sending ahead deadly wasps (Exodus 23:28).
After the Jewish people left Egypt, “they traveled for three days in the desert but did not find water. And they came to Marah, but could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter (that is why the place is called Marah [literally “bitter”]). Then the people complained to Moses saying, ‘What will we drink?’” (Exodus 15:22-24)
The book of Genesis is the history of the world, in that it features the pained and unfortunately consistent story of brothers not getting along. It starts with Cain and Abel (“Am I my brother’s keeper?” Genesis 4:9) and only ends when two brothers finally get the right answer: Yes.
When does death occur? Is it when the brain ceases to function, or maybe when the heart fails to pump blood? While this question is important, consider this: Maybe life stops long before either of these two calamities. Long before the ambulance is called, someone could already be DOA.
In this week's Torah portion, Vayishlach, Jacob travels with his family back to the Land of Israel, away from his uncle Laban’s house, where he had worked as a shepherd for many years. After sending his family ahead, Jacob wanders alone:
This week’s parsha, Mishpatim, relays G-d’s instructions on how we should behave toward one another. In consecutive verses, chapter 22 requires Jews to acknowledge the dignity of strangers (verse 20) and of widows and orphans (verses 21-23). In the case of the former, the Torah succinctly and in straightforward terms admonishes not to “wrong or exploit” them, for “you” lived as “strangers in Egypt.” In the case of the latter, the Torah goes into greater detail.
Traditionally, Jews refer to this Shabbat, in which we read the Parshat Beshalach, as Shabbat Shira (Shabbat of the Song). “The Song” refers to the Song of the Sea, Az Yashir (Exodus 15:1-19). The newly freed Israelites sang this song in praise to G-d after crossing the Sea of Reeds safely; we Jews consider the song as a statement of faith. This Shabbat, the Torah reader will chant special cantillations when reciting the relevant verses. We incorporate these verses every morning in our prayers.
This week’s parsha, Vayechi, opens with the story of Jacob in his last days. He summons his son, Joseph, the viceroy of Egypt, who promises to ensure his father’s burial in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron. Soon after, Jacob lies on his deathbed; Joseph comes to visit and brings his two sons to receive their grandfather’s final blessings. Placing his hands on their heads, the Patriarch obliges. “[Jacob] blessed Joseph, saying, ‘G-d before Whom walked my forefathers, Abraham and Isaac; G-d Who tended to me from the time I was born until today. May the angel who rescues me from all evil bless the children ... ’” (Genesis 48:15-16).
In the end of last week’s Torah portion, we are left with a cliffhanger: How will the brothers, the sons of Israel, respond when Benjamin, their youngest brother, is suddenly seized on trumped-up charges? Will they abandon him?
One of the most fascinating television characters I grew up with was Mr. Spock, chief science officer of the Starship Enterprise. The product of a mixed marriage, a human mother and a Vulcan father, his Vulcan logical self struggles with his human emotional self. He once said, “Being split into two halves is no theory with me, doctor. I have a human half, you see, as well as an alien half ... submerged, constantly at war with each other. I survive because my intelligence wins out over both and makes them live together.”
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